Public Safety

CMPD initiative meant to protect immigrant robbery victims

tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com

Earlier this month, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police announced that crime was up in nearly every crime category. Homicides were up 40 percent. Aggravated assaults were up nearly 20 percent, and vehicle thefts were up more than 31 percent.

Police have given a number of reasons why people shouldn’t be alarmed about the rise in crime. They say they’re competing against historically low numbers from last year and that long-term crime trends are down.

Still, leaders in the department are focused on getting crime to go down again. I spoke with Deputy Chief Jeff Estes about their efforts.

Estes pointed me to a police initiative at the apartments on North Tryon Street near Tom Hunter Road, an area with a large immigrant population. In the first half of this year, robberies spiked in that part of town, and many fit a similar pattern.

“You have a Spanish-speaking segment of the population, some of them are here illegally, some are not, but for whatever reason, they can’t get a bank account,” Estes said. “They’re paid in cash, they keep it on them, then you have people who know this. When Spanish people loiter around and they’re in the parking lot, (criminals) prey on them and they pistol whip them and they rob them.”

A few years ago, police saw a similar problem on Albemarle Road near Farm Pond Lane, another area with a large immigrant population. Thieves targeted immigrants walking on paths from check cashing businesses on Albemarle Road to dozens of apartment complexes nearby. On Friday nights – payday for many people – officers investigated more robberies than at any other time.

To combat the robberies, police say they have to answer a bigger question: How do you protect people who are often afraid to talk to police?

Police say their strategy is three-fold.

▪ First, for the past month, they’ve flooded the area with more police officers, even bringing them in from other response areas or other divisions. To be sure, this is a short-term solution, but officers say it allows them to take other actions that can have more of a lasting impact.

▪ Second, they’ve used Spanish-speaking officers to try to spread awareness. They tell potential victims to not keep large amounts of cash on their person and, if they see a suspicious person or car, to call 911.

▪ The third thing is encouraging victims to not be afraid of the police.

“We’re looking to break that fear,” Estes said. “You’ve got a whole segment of the population that lives in fear – fear of the police and fear of getting robbed. They’re not criminals who are out there, they’re human beings that have been victimized.”

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